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106 – Beautiful Truth

For Shelby, growing up as a Korean adoptee left her feeling “othered” as she didn’t quite fit into her community. The Korean school her parents tried to raise her in wouldn’t accept her either. She was forced to live in between her culture and what Americans would or would not let her be.

On a heritage trip to South Korea she experienced the heavy emotions of reunion with her birth mother, the challenge of remaining a secret, and witnessed the frustrations of her brother who couldn’t locate his biological family. Shelby also gained a real compassion for her adopted mother whose reasons for adopting brought Shelby and her mother closer together. This is Shelby’s journey.


Shelby (00:02): She had been raped and she got pregnant and her parents did not want to help raise the baby. So they essentially told her like, you have to give this baby up for adoption or you can’t stay here. So she felt like she had no option. And so it’s been a lifetime of pain for her.

Damon (00:32): Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I really a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members? I’m Damon Davis and on today’s show is Shelby who called me from Valrico, Florida due East of Tampa for Shelby, growing up as a Korean adoptee, left her feeling othered as she didn’t quite fit into her community and the Korean school, her parents tried to raise her in. Wouldn’t accept her either on a heritage trip to her home country. She experienced the heavy emotion of reunion with her birth mother, the challenge of remaining a secret and witnessed the frustrations of her brother who couldn’t locate his biological family. Shelby also gained a real compassion for her adopted mother who’s reasons for adopting brought Shelby and her mother closer together. This is Shelby. When I spoke to Shelby. She was frantically packing and planning for a very special trip to New York with her adopted mother. She started off telling me about her adoption that originated overseas.

Shelby (01:47): Well, I was adopted from South Korea when I was almost one year old and I flew over on a plane to an airport in DC. And my parents picked me up at the airport and that’s where I met him for the first time. Um, my mom always tells me that the first time she held me, I just looked straight into her eyes and she, um, felt like I was asking her, are you my new mother? Now? She always gets emotional when she tells that story. And I do too. Um, I do feel like I bonded really quickly with her. I don’t remember, but I just felt my life. I felt so close to my adopted mom. Um, and then when I was put into my dad’s arms, I took one look at him and I immediately cried because he had glasses, blue eyes, very pale skin, that eighties moustache. So it took me a bit of time to warm up to him, but he did take off a few weeks of work, uh, so that he could connect with me and for me to become comfortable with him, that was good that he was able to do that.

Damon (02:59): The family lived right here near me in silver spring, Maryland until she was five years old. When they moved to North Carolina, they spent a stint in Montana. Then back to silver spring, the family finally settled in Jupiter, Florida near West Palm beach. Shelby admits. She doesn’t have many memories of those early days, but during that time, the reality of adoption hit her hard.

Shelby (03:23): It was about when I was around five or six is when it finally hit me, what adoption meant. And my mom always tells me that I was devastated and heartbroken. And, um, my, my brother who was, uh, they adopted him from Korea as well. And he’s two and a half years younger than me, but he, we, we are not biologically related. Um, he saw my reaction of, uh, just incessant crying. And I apparently was begging my parents to go to Korea and find her and bring, uh, my biological mother back so that she could live with me because ever since I can remember, they just told me that I was adopted and my mother gave me up out of love to give me a better life because she was so poor and so that whole narrative, that simple narrative, um, which I think is dangerous to tell a kid, it didn’t make sense to me. She was so poor. Then she could come live in this big house. I thought it was a very big house. You know, why would, why would they, why would they separate us?

Damon (04:34): Shelby’s mother could only deliver the message to her daughter in the ways that she learned to do it. She went to conferences where adult adoptees spoke and exposed her to different narratives. So her mother did the best she could with what little information she had. And Shelby said she did something else that helped a lot.

Shelby (04:53): She gave me like a lot of space to be able to talk about my feelings and emotions, especially if it had anything to do with adoption. So I always had that and I think that’s why we’re really close. Um, and my dad, you know, to be he was not the greatest at talking about his own emotions, but he did the best he could. And, um, I do remember this when I was really young, that I would fantasize about being the princess of Korea and that my real mother would come back or would find me. And then I would go Google Korea. So that definitely was a fantasy of mine. I would imagine what she looked like, because that was really difficult, not knowing who I looked like

Damon (05:39): Shelby wanted to see who she looked like, where she got her personality traits from, and so much more to frame things. Shelby’s parents are white. Her father is a tall man with light Brown hair. Her mother is Italian with more olive skin and darker hair. She’ll be says she with her mother for several months before she was placed into foster care in South Korea. So she probably got familiar with her birth mother’s face and therefore felt some sense of familiarity with her adopted mother’s Italian features, going back. The many moves the family made were in pursuit of her father’s job opportunities as a scientist. But when the family was in silver spring, Maryland for the last time, the school year commute and the increase in crime in the area got to be too much for her mother that’s when they moved to Florida.

Shelby (06:27): The only thing that was unfortunate about that move was my parents did, there was a lot more Korean adoptees and Korean or translational adoptive families in the area. And so we would go to like groups and meetings and there was a culture camp we went to. So I think I also, well, I know I also had a Korean babysitter even who would talk to me, in Korean and my mom’s told me that like I understood basic Korean up until I was about four. So I had a lot of exposure to the Korean culture, but I don’t really remember it. And then, so we moved to Florida because of the warm weather. It’s safer, I guess. Uh, and it’s a very predominantly white community. And so besides the moving stressful, and it was just a stark contrast of, um, the people around, around you. I remember in public school, this is, this is when I start getting like Cooley or crystal clear memories, um, of kids making fun of the way I looked.

Shelby (07:32): And that was new to me. So I am a very quiet, introverted person. So I usually would shut down and I wouldn’t know how to react, but when a kid would call me Chinese Japanese, look at these, and then they would like pull their face back to try and make their eyes look slanted. Um, a lot of times they would call me flat face. They would ask the question. I mean, why was your parents or your old, your real parents give you up? So that was a hard question to answer because I didn’t feel like, you know, it wasn’t really their business. So a lot of times I would just add, I’m just adopted from Korea. I don’t know why

Damon (08:10): She’s written a lot about her experiences in blog posts. And her mom has read her posts. Shelby’s mother was dismayed that her daughter never shared her struggles. Her mother would have loved to have done something about it, spoken to the school administration or something Shelby can see now that she internalized the feelings that came from those harsh experiences. They effected her feelings of self-worth and her self-esteem. She said she just really wanted to be white so much so that when she started wearing makeup, she picked tones that were way lighter than a match for her own skin. Shelby said she was really embarrassed when one of her best friends finally told her about her cosmetics, blender, when they were in high school, she talks about her desire to feel better about herself as an adoptee

Shelby (08:57): Growing up, I was very much a people pleaser and I tried really, really hard to be perfect, you know, so that my parents would be proud. Um, and that kind of thing, just basically to just try and be worthy, I guess, of their love. And, um, and I felt like if I did all of this work and I did everything I was supposed to, that I would, I would feel better about myself. You know, I would feel whole, but when, you know, come high school, I still felt this huge void inside because of the loss of my biological family. It felt like a huge let down, I guess, you know, because you grow up. I, at least for me, I felt a lot of, of shame and embarrassment about, about it because I didn’t know if my, my biological mother did truly love me. And so I feel like growing up with a doubt of a mother’s love really, really hurts. Like she was a person. And how you view yourself, sorry. I always get emotional when they talk about it. It still has an effect on me, even as an adult, even though I’ve done so much work and I’ve gone to therapy, like I think my mom, she put me into therapy when I was six because of how hard I had taken the whole adoption. Like what it meant.

Damon (10:28): Shelby said, her brother, Garrett, also a South Korean adoptee, but not biological to her, looked up to her when they were younger, copying all of the things she liked to do and basically annoying her intentionally or just by being there. I asked her if she shared her feelings with her brother about being an adoptee back then she said they did not, but they did bond over it partially because of the discrimination they experienced in a variety of settings.

Shelby (10:55): I think what was our comfort is that we were both adopted. I can imagine families that have both biological and adopted children. I would, I would feel like I wouldn’t, I would feel if my parents had biological, biological children that I would, I would feel less loved than them, if that makes any sense. But I mean, maybe that’s not the case for other other families, but yeah. So I think, and also that he was also Korean. Like I do remember when we were sitting in the doctor’s office. Um, and it was for my mom appointment and we were just waiting in the waiting room and there was this old man and he just started going off and how much he hated Japanese people. And he looked right at my brother and I, and I think I was probably 13 and he was 10. So we just, we just kept quiet.

Shelby (11:49): We didn’t know what to do. And at first I was like we aren’t even Japanese, like, why do we keep getting this? Like, people not know there are other Asian countries around the world. I don’t even know if I don’t even think we told my mom because he had left or something. So it seemed pointless, but that’s kind of, you know, we had that in common and I don’t even know we had to talk about it, how it would help me to feel, but it certainly was fruitful. And, but we were also kind of used to it.

Damon (12:21): It’s kind of weird that you guys would have this unfortunate bond over, you know, the ignorance of discrimination against you, both. You know what I mean? Like what a weird club to be in that’s. It sucks

Shelby (12:34): Yes. And you know, what’s even harder is my, my parents wanted to put Garrett and I, and that’s my brother’s name into a Korean school on the weekend where we could learn more about the culture and possibly learn about the language. And you know what the director of that school said, he’s like he advised against it because we weren’t being raised by Korean parents. Our parents are white and they said the kids would make fun of them and call them, call them KVA’s, which stands for Korean, but American. So this really weird place where we would not be accepted by the Korean American. And then it was hard to, you know, be embraced by the predominantly white community. So we were like really stuck in this place where we’re like, what, it’s not even our fault.

Damon (13:30): Shelby went on to say, she’s heard from Korean adoptees younger than herself, that the discrimination by other Koreans in America isn’t as bad as it was for she and her brother back in the Homeland. However, where traditions hold steadfast through the generations, they’re still discriminatory toward children born out of wedlock or those who are not full-blooded Korean Shelby navigated high school, managing othering and discrimination. She said, she always knew she wanted to find her biological mother ever since she was six years old, her parents always told her and her brother that they would take them on a trip to South Korea when they were in high school, as promised when Shelby was 17 years old, her parents contacted the adoption agency through which Shelby and Garrett were adopted and booked a two week Homeland tour to Korea, the tour hosted several other adopted kids and their families on a journey to the land they came from as an additional service. The agency will search for biological relatives. If the child is interested in locating them for Shelby, it was the sole reason for that trip.

Shelby (14:36): I remember my mom had put in that both Garrett and I wanted to meet our foster moms and our biological moms, if they could be found. And I remember for me, I, it was probably two weeks before the trip. And, uh, I got a letter from the agency saying that they had found her and she was reluctant to meet me. And I remember locking myself in my room and crying so hard. I feel like, you know, when you have a trauma or traumatic things happen, like when you, when you go back to it or revisit, it it’s literally like, it just happened. Um, at least for me, that pain, like I can still recall that almost as vastly as when I first felt it. Um, but it felt like a second rejection. And I, I told my mom, there was no point for me going on this trip. If I couldn’t meet her, that was the whole point. I don’t care about getting Korean food and stuff like we eat Korean food in Florida. I I’m like Garrett and I are in TaeKwonDo. So we literally can count to 10 in Korean and say, hello and goodbye. Thank you very much. We got it. We’ve got the culture thing down,

Damon (15:55): Along with the notification that Shelby’s birth mother had been found, but was reluctant to meet her was a document that had been withheld from her adoption papers describing her biological mother and father. Garrett got one to. Shelby’s birth parents had been factory workers and she was born out of wedlock. I asked Shelby how it felt to see those details about her life.

Shelby (16:17): I was incredibly angry that they had, that they had, without that I felt like this was information that was my right to have and always have. And I didn’t understand why they had withheld it, uh, why they had to keep it so secret. Uh, what was, what was the purpose of it? It didn’t make any sense to me. And so it was really, really angry. And I feel like, you know, when I was younger, I had that when I had that fit I was fit about the whole thing, but then I kind of get really the grieving process and went straight to acceptance and forgiveness. And you know, now I just want to find her. So now I feel like two weeks before the trip I was grieving and I was more resentful. I’m like, I didn’t really resent her for,

Damon (17:12): Oh really? That’s interesting. Shelby’s parents convinced her to go on the Korean Homeland trip. When she arrived. She asked the adoption agency to please reach out to her birth mother again, let the woman know she was in country to see if that would change her mind. The day before the family was to return to the States, the woman changed her mind and agreed to meet Shelby.

Shelby (17:34): My dad and mom and my brother were there along with, uh, two social workers. And one of them was a translator because Garret and I never learned Korean. And my Korean mother did not learn English. Apparently she had brought her sister along for support and I met my aunt, which was definitely something I wasn’t expecting and was really excited to also meet her as well. And then really we’ll cry again. The first time I saw her and she hugged me, I cried because I felt like the love that I had wondered about my entire life up until that point. And so it was everything that I had hoped for in that one, embrace that first hug. And I remember her telling me, because I am just a cry baby. I cry so easily, but she like, she held my face with her hand and she was like, I’m going to be strong and I’m not going to cry.

Shelby (18:36): And of course the translator was saying this, and she’s speaking to me in Korean. I don’t understand what she’s saying. But then we sit down and we have a meeting and I had brought a photo album of my brother and I growing up with my parents. So she could look at that. And so that was something nice for her to be able to kind of give an idea of what it was like for me to grow up. She told me this, this was, um, a lot of the stuff went over my head. So it took me probably two years to process everything. Um, but she told me that she always knew she was going to relinquish me, but it was important for her to keep me for two months to bond with me. So that was hard, I guess, to know that she knew, she always knew she was never going to keep me

Damon (19:28): Shelby learned she was born in her birth. Mother’s neighbor’s home. Her birth mother shared that her birth father was a good man with a good heart. The couple had been separated from their respective significant others. When Shelby was conceived, Shelby is the youngest behind two boys on her maternal side and five children on her paternal side. Her birth mother has since remarried, but Koreans still hold true to deep seated traditional values. If the woman’s husband knew she had a child out of wedlock before their marriage, it would be a dishonor Shelby realized later what a risk her birth mother took, even meeting her that day. She also learned a bit about what life could have been. Like if she had stayed in South Korea,

Shelby (20:12): We found out that because I wasn’t a legitimate child that I wouldn’t have been able to go to school because I wouldn’t have been considered a citizen. Um, of course she, remarried like the new husband wouldn’t accept her children from her previous marriage, let alone a child born out of wedlock. Um, so that was, that was tough to hear. But again, that was all over my head at the time, the meeting, and then I processed it later. Interesting. Yeah, I was still just focused on, Oh my gosh. I’m meeting her finally. You know, it’s like a dream come true. And, um, it’s so funny because I thought, and so did my family, we all thought I looked more like my Aunt. So, um, even in the picture is like that we have, um, so that was, that was odd. Um, but she, she told my brother, I remember she asked about my brother and she told him, look onto me as if I were your birth mother. And he cried. We all cried.

Shelby (21:30): I hope that made him. I feel like with my brother, never being able to contact his family over in Korea, like he’s always been drawn to like the Asian countries. He studied abroad in Korea in college. He taught English in Korea for over a year. So he, he and I kind of took different trajectories. He wanted to, he learned the language he lived over there. And I feel like after this reunion that I, I was able to experience. It’s been hard for me to embrace that side of me because I feel like I’m still upset at the country even now is still very unforgiving of single on what mothers, no matter it doesn’t matter what socioeconomic class they’re in. If they’re poor, middle class wealthy, they’re still shunned by their friends, family, and coworkers. So it’s, it’s still a battle that’s being fought for the single woman to have the right, to raise their kids on their own.

Damon (22:40): Yeah. It sounds like the country’s battling with centuries of tradition, right? That is intrenched

Shelby (22:46): Yes, but they are first world country. That’s the problem

Damon (22:49): At 17. Shelby has grown up in communities that didn’t look like her. There were no racial mirrors around her. So she was anticipating the feeling of being surrounded by people of her culture. But she admits being in country, made her feel even more out of place. She talked to other kids on the trip and they felt the same way. Part of the Homeland tour is a stop at a combined birth mother center and orphanage women who know they’re going to relinquish their children, go stay there on the tour, the families and the adoptees met with some of the mothers housed in the facility at the time, Shelby recounts, a heavy emotional moment.

Shelby (23:30): I remember one of them, she was crying. She was really emotional. And she was like, did you guys have a good life? And so it’s so hard to answer that question because yes, we had the good life, like an education loving parents, a stable home, but it was not without its challenges and struggles internally because of the loss in adoption. You know, I don’t even think I answered that. I think a few other adoptees did, so she was struggling and you could tell, and I just remember that one, that one person amongst several of the mothers

Damon (24:15): Bear in mind, it was also an orphanage. So there were kids present aging from infants to teenagers who might age out of the facility. Shelby said it was heartbreaking to see the parents often had not relinquished their rights to the custody of the child. It’s her understanding that parents go visit with their children when they get the chance. So the kid lives there stuck in between a home with their parents and an adoptive home. She said this whole trip was just an emotional roller coaster for everyone. One minute, you’re trying new foods experiencing the shopping mall or visiting an ancient palace. Another you’re in an orphanage and birth mother’s home being triggered by the sight of children that could have been you and birth mothers struggling with their decision, which was probably a requirement by way of the rules of tradition, mothers who were about to relinquish their children and looking to the kids on the heritage trip to validate that everything was going to be okay.

Shelby (25:15): One of the things that I I remember vividly is I was with other adopted kids in, in our Homeland tour. And we were like in the hotel room and there was like five of us. We’re all around the same age, 16, 17 years old. My brother was like in another group, like around his age. And, um, I remember I’ve always been, even though I’m more introverted and quiet, I always ask like very personal questions. And so I guess I was asking questions about how everyone was feeling about the trip and like things surrounded by a sea of people that looked like us. And this girl, I won’t say her name because she’s very private person. I haven’t talked to her in years, but, um, she left a lasting imprint on me. She started crying because she had been raised in a family that did not talk about adoption or her Korean culture, Korean heritage.

Shelby (26:24): I don’t know if she wasn’t allowed to talk about it if it made them uncomfortable, but it was something that she had pushed aside for her entire life. Like any time, any feelings about her adoption relating to a resentment relating to, uh, grief, um, wondering about, you know, her family in Korea, she had dubbed away and coming on this trip, all of that was just being forced on her. Like she was no longer able to push that away. And so she had a breakdown, like a real breakdown in front of the five of us. And I, you know, we didn’t know what to do, how to comfort her. And I remember feeling so angry at her parents for not creating an environment for her to have a safe space, to talk about her feelings, to explore the feelings to, or just to feel comfortable to talk about it or to know that it’s something that she, she might want to talk about. You know, and I think growing up, I was really naive in how I saw adoption and adoptive parents, um, because I had the complete opposite. I was very close and very close to my, my parents and my mom. Um, because we had this open dialogue, maybe oversharing our feelings even

Damon (27:57): Shelby continued that there were several families on the trip who had never tried Korean food or had in no way prepared themselves or the children for the culture shock of returning home. But focusing on Shelby, I wondered how things were for her in the relationship with her birth mother. She said there was an option to stay in contact with her Korean mom using her Korean aunt as a go-between Shelby could send letters. They would be translated by the adoption agency, then sent to her aunt who would make sure her birth mother got the correspondence, but Shelby decided to do something different.

Shelby (28:33): I decided not to because I was still processing everything and reflecting on the trip. Um, it was a very emotional time for me. Um, just in general. Um, my parents had split my senior year of high school, so I was going through a lot. And then I went to college and my childhood home was no longer there when I came back from college, like during the holidays. So that was, I think, any kind of separation just is a big trigger for adoptees or at least for me, because I definitely dealt with separation anxiety. So that was tough. And, um, I didn’t feel like trying to continue a relationship on my side, not knowing if she really wanted it.

Damon (29:25): The whole process was too convoluted. And who knows if she would even respond that level of contact could put her at risk for discovery. Just imagine if a chest of secret letters from Shelby was discovered in her mother’s home.

Shelby (29:41): So I just decided Not to. I felt at the time, because of everything else that looked going on in my life, all the different changes that that’s all I needed and to meet her. And that fills that void. I felt growing up for a time. It just turned out to be more temporary. I did want to say, uh, saying goodbye to, um, my Korean mom was one of the hardest things I had to do ever in my life, even now, um, at that hug, goodbye was so long I was crying and she finally cried and that meant a lot to me, but she let herself be that vulnerable with me. And I was so grateful that she, she did meet me and we were all crying. My, my mom was my dad, my brother, the social workers translator, um, my aunt, it was definitely an emotional.

Shelby (30:44): And then on our plane ride back, Oh my gosh, we took one of the babies to be adopted. And so did a few of the other families. So it was kind of like a full circle. You got to see the whole kind of process of the adoption. And so my mom held the baby, uh, most of the flight and Garrett and I got to hold the baby a little bit. Um, and she was adorable. She blew those bad berries, you know? the ones that babies do. And, um, my mom was the one that handed the baby to its new mother at the airport. She was like crying so hard. I felt very, um, divided. You know, this baby was going to a loving home, but this baby was also losing so much and you never know how they’ll grow up. You know, you don’t know if they’ll still be well adjusted or if they’ll. Bond everyone’s story is different. Everyone is different.

Damon (31:58): Shelby said, as she was holding the baby on the plane, she kept wondering what the child’s life was going to be like in America. She wondered about the family. The child was leaving behind in Korea and Shelby felt like she really cared for that little girl on another emotional note Shelby shared that during the heritage journey, she got the chance to meet her foster mother whom she was with for nine months.

Shelby (32:22): She was so warm. And she had a picture of me when I was, when she was, I was in her care. And it was the picture of me in this little back outside with my hair, sticking straight up in one of those ponytails. And it was really, really cute. And I, she, you could tell she loved me too. I mean, I don’t know how these foster moms do it, like how they can, you know, take care of all of these kids and fall in love with them. And then let them go.

Damon (32:53): Shelby said it was really fulfilling to learn how much she was cared for.

Shelby (32:58): I do feel like I’m one of the luckier ones, because I was able to bond I bonded, with my Korean mom with my foster mom and immediately it was my adoptive mom. I also think it was because of a survival skill, but looking back on it now, like I had to adapt quickly and connect quickly to survive for me

Damon (33:24): After such an emotional trip for Shelby. I wondered how things had changed at home. After the trip. She told me that her parents’ divorce was such a drastic turn of events, that it really was where her energy and attention were focused. But she also said that her relationship with her brother Garrett also changed, especially as they got older, there was something else I wanted to know from Shelby. I noticed your personal email is a cultural name. Where is that name from?

Shelby (33:54): Oh yeah. That’s another thing. That’s my, I spelled it wrong. I’ve been spelling it wrong my entire life. Apparently it’s really Y O O N M E E. I don’t know why I wrote it that way, but that’s my Korean name. That’s what my, my mom called me. And she confirmed when I met her. That was the names you have given me, which means truth shining or beautiful truth. Um, because I was her beautiful truth.

Damon (34:25): Wow, that’s really cool. I love it.

Shelby (34:29): And I feel like that is who I am. I love to tell my truth and I love to help others tell theirs as well.

Damon (34:39): Speaking of helping others to tell their truth. About eight years ago, Shelby started filming stories about foster care and adoption. The stories she’s documented so far are on her YouTube channel. She said, she’s always known. She wanted to make videos about adoption since her high school TV production class, where she and Garrett shared their heritage journey and her reunion story for a project. The YouTube channel started with adoptive parents and Korean adoptees. But soon the comments started showing requests from mothers who had placed children for adoption, foster parents, social workers, trauma counselors, and more all wanting to tell their tails.

Shelby (35:20): I have now documented every phase of foster care and adoption, including, uh, kinship care stories as well. And so it is been such a journey for me, and it’s actually opened up new doors for myself about trying to search for, um, my other family members in Korea, because there’s a lot of adoptees talking about meeting, not just their, their biological mother, but their siblings and father and, um, kind of what that meant to them. And, uh, so that made me interested in and trying to search. And right now I’m not searching anymore because what happened was in 2015, I followed another Korean adoptee on her story. She Korea for the first or second time to search for information about her family. Um, and that was a whirlwind of a trip again. And I had contacted my agency again, asking if they could search for my, my siblings and my father and also my, my mother, but there was no response.

Shelby (36:37): And I remember going to the agency again, almost a decade later. And, uh, the, the social worker there said that they think my sister answered the door to receive the tele. It’s a telegram that they send out. And it doesn’t say anything about who is reaching out. It just says to call this information, uh, someone is looking for you. So it doesn’t say who it is, or it’s just very nondescript, I guess. Uh, but no one called. And, um, I cried cause I was like, I’m back here, but I’m also filming another story. So I, I guess I’m going to be okay about it. You know, I tried, you know, I extended the olive branch or whatever, um, but no response. So it just, I think I just cried hearing that someone else gets to know who my sister is, but I don’t. That was crushing for me

Damon (37:43): Still, when it came to her friend’s experience for whom she was documenting the journey, Shelby had a pretty good trip following her friend who learned a few things about her own family, but even for her, some aspects of the trip were really troubling and triggering

Shelby (37:59): What made us so upset was that this, uh, orphanage had a stack of paperwork on her family and her adoption and she was only allowed a fraction of it. So yeah, I mean, we talked about the adoptees, not being able to open up their birth records in the States and most of the States here, I mean, it is the same and so many other countries do. I don’t understand why we can’t know something that should just be our, you our given right.

Damon (38:38): That information, that stack of papers, wouldn’t be there if I wasn’t here and it’s not been in benefiting anybody at all, if nobody can access it. So you may as well, let me have it. It’s crazy. Regarding the film project. Shelby said, she also created the show to make sure other adoptees have a place to talk about their adoption experiences.

Shelby (38:58): But I also wanted to educate people about how important it is to especially to adoptive parents to create that safe environment for your kids to share their feelings about being adopted, because I never want any adoptee to go through what I saw at other adoptees go through on that trip. When I was 17, I feel like I’m a very empathetic person. And so like her hurts became my hurt and it was, it was just very, that pain was enormous. And it’s something that I think could have been avoided

Damon (39:35): Before we closed. Shelby wanted to share one more thing. The reason she became so close to her adopted mother,

Shelby (39:43): I became even closer with my, my mom who raised me because when I was 11, um, it was, I was coming back from a track meet and out of town and she stopped the car somewhere like in a parking lot. And she had been raped and she got pregnant and her parents did not want to help raise the baby. So they essentially told her like, you have to give this baby up for adoption or you can’t stay here. So she felt like she had no option. And so it’s been a lifetime of pain for her because it was a closed adoption and it was at birth that her son was given away. And so she told me this and she was crying and I was crying. And she told me the reason why she adopted well, this was after like she had had several miscarriages and just, they weren’t able to have a child on their biologically that she wanted to be the adoptive mom that she hoped her son had. So that really made us closer. I really understood her better where she was coming from. And I, I did, she allows me to film her story as well for my series on YouTube.

Damon (41:06): Shelby said there’s a lot of adoption in her family, her mother reunited with her biological son, more than 40 years after his birth. Also her adopted grandmother is a late discovery adoptee. She found out in her sixties when she needed a birth certificate to go on a cruise, sadly, her parents were deceased. So there was no way to talk about her adoption and learn her truth on another creative endeavor. Shelby has teamed up with a fellow adoptee named Veronica whom you’ll hear from next season on a book project capturing adoption reflections.

Shelby (41:43): And I thought that project seemed really, really important to be a part of. And so I’m partnering up with her on collecting a hundred reflections from adoptees on what adoption means to them personally. And the book is called rooted in adoption, a collection of adoptee reflections they’re still taking. Yeah. And we’re still taking submissions in, I guess, mid November of this year. Um,

Damon (42:14): Where can people go if they want to, um, send a submission to you guys?

Shelby (42:19): Oh yeah. Um, the email is

Damon (42:25): Good. All right. We’ll make sure people know about both of your projects. That’s some really amazing work. Well done. Thank you so much.

Shelby (42:31): Thank you!

Damon (42:33): Thanks for taking time to share your own personal story. It sounds like it’s been a really interesting road. I mean, I don’t want to say rough because having the perspective that you just gave me about your adopted mother sharing, sort of who she is and where she comes from juxtaposed against your own personal experience. And then ultimately getting able to being able to meet your biological mother and, you know, it’s my understanding that Asian countries that can be very, very challenging to do so. Wow. Super lucky. I mean, this is just an unbelievable story. Thank you so much, Shelby.

Shelby (43:07): Oh, of course. Thank you for having me

Damon (43:09): Take care then all the best Shelby bye-bye

Shelby (43:12): All right, bye Damon.

Damon (43:19): Hey, it’s me Shelby really developed a bond with her adopted mother. Once she learned the reason her mother wanted to adopt yet as a Korean adoptee here, she was forced to live in between her culture and what Americans would or would not let her be. She and her brother Garrett were left in limbo with their identities. Their heritage trip was really emotional, both for Shelby to finally come face to face with and cry with her biological mother and for Garrett whose biological family could not be found. I really liked that Shelby’s birth mother told him that he could look upon her as his mother, too. If you want to check out Shelby’s film work, you can find her on YouTube, Shelby Redfield, Kilgore. You can also find her on Facebook at adoption awareness. I’m Damon Davis, and I hope you’ll find something in Shelby’s journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn who am I really, you can find a show online and wh at Or follow me on Twitter at waieally. If the show means something special for you, I’d really appreciate your support at or Venmo at Damon L Davis. And as always, I hope you’ll leave a rating for who am I really, wherever you get your podcasts so that others can find the podcast too.

Damon (45:02): And one more thing, I just wanted to let you know that my own adoption memoir, who am I really is now available on I hope you’ll add my story to your reading list.

Who Am I Really?

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